Jean Grey’s return to the Marvel universe has been met with welcome fanfare, even if the second issue of X-Men Red fumbled the excellent narrative pacing of the inaugural issue. While the first issue featured little action bolstered by terrifically written plot progression, the second issue felt like a side step for a lifeless, but necessary, rescue mission. This third issue gets the story back on track with a fun, thoughtful and, at times, dark story that pits these X-Men against their oldest foe: bigotry.
In issue #1, writer Tom Taylor showed this series will be a more mature X-Men story when it concludes with a U.N. ambassador’s head popping like a pimple on live TV thanks to the psychicotic Cassandra Nova. Nova is back at it almost immediately, only this time snapping the neck of a child-student inside the halls of the X-mansion.
It’s a truly shocking moment cementing Nova- who’s secretly leading the anti-mutant charge- as a truly heinous villain and fitting personification of bigotry. Like Cassandra sneaking into the school unnoticed, discrimination can be found in unexpected places before ruining lives.
Bigotry and hatred are key themes to this issue, transitioning from a murder in the X-Mansion, to a battle with a Sentinel, to the streets of New Orleans where Gambit and a young mutant named Cara find themselves in the midst of an anti-mutant hate rally. The scene looks ripped from real world TV screens as tiki-torch bearing, polo-shirt wearing “activists” (using that term very loosely) shout anti-mutant slurs while equating mutants unworthy of being named.
Gambit makes his first appearance in this series here, and boy was it worth the two issue wait. Taylor does a wonderful job writing the irresistible southern charm of Remy LeBeau as he swoops in to save the day with hilarious quips and classic Louisiana swagger.
Despite his best efforts, however, Gambit fails to stop a full blown hate crime that packs a surprising punch despite happening to a one-off character. Once again, Taylor demonstrates that he will not shy away from mature themes and sequences in this X-Men story as he puts the very real consequences of blind hatred on full display.
While Gambit fends off bigots in Louisana, Jean Grey and her team- Night Crawler, Honey Badger, Wolverine, and the recently introduced Trinary- must defeat a Sentinel sicced on them by Nova. While the battle ends abruptly in a way that’ll make readers say “well why didn’t she just do that in the first place!?!,” it leads to a thought provoking analysis of the weaponization of social media without necessarily pointing the finger at anyone specific in contemporary society.
A lot of readers complain when books get political, however this specific scene, delivered by the technopathic Trinary, manages to feel more like a nudge towards critical thinking than a political point. Trinary breaks down how social media algorithms provide content based on inherent personal bias closing individuals off to differing views and how the psychological effects of sharing information, whether true or not, that gather likes and attention can cause an addictive, domino-like effect in the spread of misinformation.
In one simple line she explains how coordinating information correctly can program hate into human beings. It’s a truly thoughtful look at the societal impact of social media and the way it effects us as a society without becoming an overt political statement. These panels educate more than they pontificate.
This notion of the danger of social media are supported in the slightest background details of Mahmud Asrar’s art. Readers who pay close attention to the background characters of the anti-mutant rally will notice a few have their phones out, presumably recording the confrontation between an armed “activist” and Gambit.
As Trinary points out, social media tends to only tell half truths- single sides of a story. From the perspective of these background characters, it likely looks like Gambit attacked a group of protesters unprovoked- or at least it can be twisted that way. This is a near perfect example of the art and dialogue coming together to support a cohesive theme without distracting the reader.
This issue is not without fault. As I hinted at earlier, the battle with the Sentinel comes to a frustrating end. It’s not a bad fight, thanks to the one liners and retorts from Honey Badger, but it ends a in a way that will make readers wonder why the fight happened at all.
X-Men comics are at their best when the mutant squads are battling real world issues rather than alien fascists, and X-Men Red #3 exemplifies that. Tom Taylor and Mahmud Asrar expertly craft a story that manages to pit Jean Grey and her new X team against real societal issues without preaching to readers.
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